Wednesday, June 25, 2014

C&EN full story on the Harran settlement

Here's Michael Torrice and Jyllian Kemsley's full story on last Friday's hearing in the #SheriSangji case. The most important part, in my opinion, is an explanation on the part of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office as to what they were thinking: (emphasis mine):
...The DA’s office didn’t negotiate a deal with Harran until after his preliminary hearing to ensure there was a public record of what happened in the accident, says head deputy DA Craig W. Hum. 
...As part of the community service mandated by the agreement, Harran must develop and teach an organic or general chemistry course for the South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that helps prepare Los Angeles inner-city high school students for college and graduate school. 
The DA’s office worked with the organization to put together a project that would be “enough of a drain on Harran’s time and energy to be a significant punishment while giving a huge benefit to the organization,” Hum says. 
Harran must also complete 800 hours of community service in the UCLA hospital system. This service cannot involve teaching, and could include jobs such as delivering food to patients. “We wanted him to do something outside of his comfort zone,” Hum says. 
...Overall, Hum says he understands the Sangji family’s position that the agreement is inadequate. But he also thinks that the settlement is likely close to any sentence that Harran might have received had he been convicted. “There was no way that any judge was going to punish him by sending him to jail,” Hum says.
There are likely lots of policy reasons that someone convicted of labor law felonies would not be sentenced to prison (i.e. California criminal justice budgets are tight, and prison is ~reserved for violent offenders.*) Also, I'd be curious to know if judges are subject to the same prejudices that bloggers are: that "professors who make serious and irresponsible mistakes are too nice and of the wrong socio-economic status to go to prison."

UPDATE: An extra tidbit about Harran's potential teaching duties.

*Drug law offenders notwithstanding

12 comments:

  1. I never thought he'd be sentenced to prison if convicted, and I never thought it was warranted. What burns me up about the agreement is that Harran will have a spotless record at the end of the day. Not a misdemeanor, not an infraction, not an admission of guilt.

    Harran was essentially sentenced to perform scientific outreach and help out his community. That's something we should all be doing anyway. It's like sentencing a drunk driver to reading bedtime stories to his kid instead of revoking his license.

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    1. I haven't thought deeply enough about punishment/rehabilitation/whatever that I have a solid answer on the "should he?" question. But it seems to me that it would be extremely important, that whatever the sentence, that it be equivalent to other employers/supervisors who have been convicted of the same crime. That, to me, was the most important outcome of a possible conviction/plea.

      To pick a small nit with your analogy, it's probably more like "reading bedtime stories to poor kids".

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  2. The outreach work will probably help him on his next grant, and it didn't even have to go out and pursue it - it was handed to him. Well, he did have to do one thing to earn it - be lax on safety.

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  3. ... If the UC system (and UCLA) were the paragon of safety that they all want us to believe that they are, this would have been handled internally.

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  4. I'm 100% sure that if I contributed to someone's death, I would be in prison, not teaching the South Central Scholars Chemistry. Plus what message are they going to derive from having him teach them as punishment for causing someone's death?

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    1. What if your "contribution" was to not warn someone that their coffee is hot, and then they spill it on themselves and get burns? are you responsible?

      The level of stupidity of this case is comparable. "pyrophorics can cause fires" no shit.

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    2. I don't think the relative merits of syringe vs cannula transfers and the associated technical skills qualifies as something as simple as "coffee is hot".

      Sangji was not remotely prepared to do that reaction, and it was Harran's job to ensure that she was. In my workplace, I couldn't even order t-butyl lithium without going through a safety review first, let alone use it. At the scale she was working at, I'd need an even higher level review (including managers and process engineers). Note that I have many, many times the experience of Sangji, but that would not eliminate the review requirements.







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  5. Plus, he'll get street cred from having blood on his hands, so the gangs will accept him.

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    1. Bring the MoviesJune 26, 2014 at 5:45 PM

      Not only that, but a certain fraction of women will be strongly sexually attracted to him. Call it the "Menendez effect."

      His love life may improve dramatically because of this.

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  6. Some punishment. The arrogance of this judge. Just another political hack having a go at teachers, he can go to hell. I've taught Chemistry to inner-city students and I would do it again, and I am looking for a full-time teaching position right now - anybody here know anybody? - I'd love to get to teach Organic, especially if there were such luxuries as fume hoods and glassware available. This high-handed so-called justice is giving out a 'punishment' that some of us would enjoy doing. I suppose that nobody wants to hire anyone with a Chemistry degree these days - it's so much easier to take advantage of convict labor.

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    1. Unfortunately, the idea Im getting is the organic is not taught at community colleges, where you can teach with a MS. You would have to get into a small college, which means a PhD several years of temporary positions.

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  7. Interesting that one of the settlement terms is that Harran must "acknowledge and accept responsibility for lab conditions". I would think that accepting responsibility for lab conditions is something that someone who is running a lab should be doing anyways.

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